1975. “Red Octopus” Jefferson Starship. R.C.A. Records.

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1975. Jef­fer­son Star­ship. Air­plane Man­sion. 2400 Ful­ton Street, San Francisco.

This pho­to was one tak­en for the album’s back cov­er (we end­ed up using a slight­ly dif­fer­ent shot where I’m sit­ting in front nurs­ing a bot­tle of Dos Equis). It was tak­en by the great pho­tog­ra­ph­er Jim Mar­shall who per­son­al­ly gave me per­mis­sion to use this shot for my “Learn­ing Piano” book…he trag­i­cal­ly passed away soon after. I loved play­ing with this ver­sion of the band…my favorite period.


San­dalphon”. Pete Sears wrote this instrumental.


Play on Love”. Pete Sears wrote the music and Grace Slick the lyrics. It was also released as a single.



Mir­a­cles”. Sung and writ­ten by Mar­ty Balin. The song was a hit sin­gle on the Bill­board Charts.

Pete Sears played bass gui­tar and Fend­er Rhodes piano on “Mir­a­cles”.


Sweet­er Than Hon­ey”. Pete Sears was one of the co-writ­ers on this song.


1975. “Red Octo­pus” Jef­fer­son Starship
Pro­duced by Lar­ry Cox.
Record­ed at Wal­ly Hei­der Stu­dios, Hyde Street, San Fran­cis­co. Stu­dio A.
R.C.A. Records

In my opin­ion this was the best album we ever made. Papa John was still with us and the band was in full swing…unpretentious, full of sin­cere and orig­i­nal writ­ing. Live, we played long sets with plen­ty of impro­vi­sa­tion (I would even do a 10 minute Rock bass solo at every show with nobody else on stage), and Grace was in full voice. Mar­ty had a hit on the Bill­board Charts with his song “Mir­a­cles”. The album went to num­ber one for sev­er­al weeks. We also released a song Grace and I wrote called “Play On Love”. I wrote an instru­men­tal for the album called “San­dalphon”, and got part writ­ing cred­it for “Sweet­er Than Honey”.
We played large audi­to­ri­ums to packed hous­es in those days…Paul was fun and inspir­ing to play with (if a lit­tle pig head­ed at times) and my close friend David Freiberg sang and shared bass and key­board duties with me. John Bar­ba­ta and Craig Chaquico were (are) won­der­ful musicians.
I still think my favorite place to play in those days was “Winterland”…Bill Gra­ham was one of Rock­’s most valu­able assets and an amaz­ing pro­mot­er. Under­neath his some­times hard exte­ri­or he cared great­ly about human rights…probably due in part to hav­ing expe­ri­enced Adolf Hitler’s Holo­caust first hand. He once agreed to pro­duce a ben­e­fit with me for Guatemalan relief from the US backed civ­il war.

Bill Thomp­son man­aged Jef­fer­son Star­ship in those days (he had also man­aged Jef­fer­son Air­plane). We record­ed Red Octo­pus at “Wal­ly Hei­der Stu­dios” in San Fran­cis­co with pro­duc­er Lar­ry Cox (ex Bud­dy Hol­ly drum­mer) who con­tin­ued to work with Jef­fer­son Star­ship all through the 1970’s…the best and most pro­duc­tive peri­od the band ever had. That line-up stuck from “Drag­on­fly” in 1974, the first offi­cial Jef­fer­son Star­ship album, through to 1978. We sold more records dur­ing the 1970’s than the more com­mer­cial radio air­play hits of the 1980’s which were pro­duced under the guid­ance of dif­fer­ent record pro­duc­ers. How­ev­er, Ron Nevi­son was a great rock pro­duc­er and worked well with the band (except for a few sil­ly per­son­al­i­ty con­flicts) in the ear­ly 1980’s. We were still a hard hit­ting rock band that record­ed basic tracks in the studio…like our “Free­dom at Point Zero” album…or “Winds of Change” (dif­fer­ent pro­duc­er) when the music was the dri­ve and lit­tle thought was giv­en to exclu­sive­ly writ­ing com­mer­cial songs and lyrics. Cer­tain forces in the band, along with record com­pa­ny A&R men would soon begin push­ing for only com­mer­cial songs and lyrics writ­ten by out­side writer’s cul­mi­nat­ing in clev­er­ly craft­ed radio hits like “Sara”, “No Way Out” and “We Built This City”…superbly sung by Mickey.

I remem­ber a par­tic­u­lar­ly volatile band meet­ing I had in the kitchen of the Record Plant in Sausal­i­to, Cal­i­for­nia as we were mak­ing my last album with the band (I had been with them for 13 years). My wife, Jean­nette, and I were heav­i­ly involved with help­ing refugees of war from Cen­tral Amer­i­ca liv­ing in the San Fran­cis­co Bay area, and were also try­ing to spread aware­ness of the USA’s involve­ment in the Civ­il Wars of El Sal­vador and Guatemala.
We had writ­ten a song togeth­er (that Grace liked a lot, Jean­nette had been a writer for many years) called “One More Inno­cent” (“every time you close your eyes, one more inno­cent dies”) about the Mayan Indi­an geno­cide in Guatemala.
How­ev­er, our pro­duc­er Peter Wolf (not the singer) and sev­er­al band mem­bers liked the music, but refused to play any­thing which might be seen as con­tro­ver­sial and only want­ed lyrics about young love and heart­break on the album. They said they only want­ed to use songs that could be poten­tial AM Radio hit singles…nothing wrong with that if that’s what you do; but it was­n’t what Jef­fer­son Starship/Airplane fans were used to. Our lead vocal­ist Mick­ey (the record com­pa­ny had been grad­u­al­ly push­ing our great­est asset Grace to the back­ground and try­ing to make us sound more like “Journey”…a con­trived and impos­si­ble task) actu­al­ly sug­gest­ed we change the lyric to “one more inno­cent lie”, instead of “one more inno­cent dies”…which changed the whole point of the song.
For bet­ter or worse, Jef­fer­son Star­ship had always been about being able to voice your own ide­ol­o­gy and out­look on life; a sin­cer­i­ty of approach that seemed to res­onate with our audi­ence in large num­bers. I decid­ed to pull “One More Inno­cent” off the album rather than change the entire mean­ing of Jean­net­te’s won­der­ful lyrics to a half rate love song.
I lat­er includ­ed the song on a solo album called “Watch­fire”, record­ed after I left the band with friends like Mick­ey Hart, Jer­ry Gar­cia, Mimi Fari­na, Baba Olatun­ji and his African drum­mers, Hol­ly Near, David Grisman.
We pro­duced a non-prof­it music video called “Guatemala” from the same album about human rights vio­la­tions; it was fund­ed by Jer­ry Gar­cia and we sent hun­dreds of free copies to human rights orga­ni­za­tions like Amnesty International.
Any­way, “Star­ship” grad­u­al­ly began to alien­ate its audi­ence. “Knee Deep In The Hoopla” was the first album to real­ly adopt the com­mer­cial only phi­los­o­phy full time…although it had been loom­ing for some time. I left right before the band began record­ing their next album “No Pro­tec­tion”. By that time Paul Kant­ner had left the band, David Freiberg also, and I was replaced by a friend of Mick­ey’s, Bret Bloom­feld (a won­der­ful bass play­er who was very good at slap bass…I was still old school I suppose:-).

Their audi­ence (and per­son­nel) grad­u­al­ly dropped off until the last “Star­ship” record (could­n’t legal­ly use the name “Air­plane” by then) con­sist­ed of just vocal­ist Mick­ey Thomas and the Aus­tri­an record pro­duc­er Peter Wolf (again, not the singer).
I have nev­er heard the record but I’m told the band bore zero resem­blance to the 1970’s ver­sion of Jef­fer­son Starship…which will always be the gold­en years in my opin­ion. Hey, Jean­nette and I bought our first house and all our antique fur­ni­ture off the one album “Red Octopus”…and I wrote many songs with Grace includ­ing “Bet­ter Lying Down”, Hyper­drive”, “Play On Love” etc.
Paul Kant­ner lat­er start­ed up a new Jef­fer­son Star­ship in the old tra­di­tion that has last­ed for many years with won­der­ful musi­cians and a series of very good vocal­ists singing Grace’s songs…the lat­est being Cathy Richards. David Freiberg also sings and plays acoustic gui­tar with them. I still occa­sion­al­ly sit in with them for fun, as does my “Moon­al­ice” band-mate Bar­ry Sless.”
Pete Sears





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